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California snowpack below average after dry January

California snowpack below average after dry January
After December storms, a dry January has resulted in below average water content in California’s mountain snowpack.

Snow surveyors reported that water content in California’s mountain snowpack is below average for the date.

Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at 93 percent of average for this time of year. That is 55 percent of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack is normally at its peak before the spring melt.

The snowpack normally provides about a third of the water for California’s homes, farms and industries as it slowly melts into streams, reservoirs and aquifers in the spring and early summer.

“We’re still seeing decent snowpack conditions due to storms in late November and early December,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin.  “Those early season storms also erased the deficit in our reservoir storage, but relatively dry weather this month is once again a reminder that the weather is unpredictable and we must always practice conservation.”

Results of manual readings by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) off Highway 50 near Echo Summit are as follows:



Snow Depth

Water Content

% of Long Term Average


7,600 feet

32.5 inches

13.5 inches


Phillips Station

6,800 feet


12.7 inches


Lyons Creek

6,700 feet

42.6 inches

14.6 inches


Tamarack Flat

6,500 feet

44 inches

14.9 inches


Electronic readings indicate that the water content in the northern mountains is 97 percent of normal for the date and  59 percent of the April 1 seasonal average.  Electronic readings for the central Sierra show 90 percent of normal for the date and 54 percent of the April 1 average.  The numbers for the southern Sierra are 91 percent of average for the date and  51 percent of the April 1 average.

DWR and cooperating agencies conduct manual snow surveys around the first of the month from January to May.  The manual measurements supplement and check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings from sensors up and down the state.

DWR currently estimates that it will be able to deliver 40 percent of the slightly more than 4 million acre-feet of State Water Project water requested for this calendar year by the 29 public agencies that supply more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of irrigated farmland.   The delivery estimate may increase as more winter storms develop.  The final allocation of State Water Project water in calendar year 2012 was 65 percent of requested deliveries.  The allocation was 80 percent in 2011, 50 percent in 2010, 40 percent in 2009, 35 percent in 2008, and 60 percent in 2007.  The last 100 percent allocation – difficult to achieve even in wet years because of restrictions on Delta export pumping to protect sensitive fish species – was in 2006.

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project’s principal reservoir with a capacity of 3.5 million acre-feet, today is at 75 percent of capacity, 113  percent of average for the date.  Shasta Lake north of Redding, the federal Central Valley Project’s principal storage reservoir with a capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet, today is at 76 percent of capacity, 111 percent of normal for the date. 

(An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough to cover one acre to a depth of one foot).

Electronic reservoir level readings are available on the Internet at:

Electronic snowpack readings may be found at:

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